April 12, 2012

English oasis of calm remains

I have survived the opening game of the season

I have survived the opening game of the season. More importantly, county cricket has survived its earliest ever start. Fears that I might get sunstroke digging my car out of a snowdrift proved groundless and the rain relented to allow a positive result in all but one of the seven Championship games.

The cricket was good. The company was great. Unless a bitter turf war between rival gangs suddenly breaks out over control of the Ladies Pavilion at New Road, it looks like a very English oasis of calm remains ensconced in the world.

Not that calm always describes the journey to and from a game. Those of us who live a distance from our local county ground are faced with the unpalatable choice of either using public transport or driving there.

Put your trust in the rail network and an opportunity to have a beer or three has to be balanced with the possibility that your return home will be delayed until midway through the reign of King Charles III. Car pool and someone will claim to know “a spot nearby, where you can park for free,” a space that will have inevitably become "resident permits only" during the winter, leading to endless circling of the area as you search for a street that looks slightly more secure than downtown Kabul, while quietly cursing whichever of your party is dragging their heels over splitting the cost of an NCP all-day ticket.

It's those intricacies of finding a car-parking space that are the reason I’m glad George Lucas isn’t a fan of county cricket. It is hard to image how the latest Blu-Ray 3D CGI-enhanced release of Star Wars would be improved by a 20-minute scene in which Han Solo tries to find a Mos Eisley side road to safely leave the Millennium Falcon without someone putting a brick through the window and having it away with the hyperdrive and Chewbacca’s copy of the Playfair Cricket Annual. Although in fairness, I’m warming to the idea of a re-named Darth Giles.

Meanwhile in a galaxy far, far away from Tatooine, Yorkshire supporters, who in no way resemble Wookies in terms of temperament, have been watching as their team, widely tipped in the media to be the Death Star to division two’s peace-loving Alderaan, came unstuck against a carefully recruited, highly experienced Kent side which could prove to be the surprise package in this season’s race for promotion. From a Yorkshire perspective, I’m using the phrase "surprise package" in a sense familiar to anyone who’s watched the final scene of the film Seven.

What Kent have done is to sign a number of players you might term as the ideal county pro: experienced, talented, but so far off the national selectors’ radar Geoff Miller would need the Hubble telescope to locate them. In fact, the only problem Kent might have is that to qualify for ECB age-related incentive payments they’ll have to recruit the man responsible for registering Pakistan U-19 players.

Of course, there were plenty of other counties using their cheque books during the off season but we still seem some way short of the Premiership-style free-for-all muttered about in the more pessimistic corners of the stands. I doubt that I’ll ever see Sky Sports News’ Jim White whipping himself into a frenzy on county cricket transfer deadline day as reporters pursue a tight-lipped Gus Fraser when he emerges from his local branch of Greggs with a cheese & onion pasty and a "no comment" on the Ollie Rayner deal.

But while cricketers moving clubs may not happen with the same glamour or frequency as footballers, the effect on their career can be just as dramatic, with this first round of Championship games providing examples of instant success. David Wainwright, one of the most underrated players on the circuit, by his previous club at least, bowled Derbyshire to victory on a dramatic final day against Northants. While Robbie Joseph, who struggled to get himself onto the pitch for any extended period of time during his final couple of seasons with Kent, circumvented the problem by only needing 30 overs to bowl Glamorgan out twice for new club Leicestershire.

That flying start to the season by Leicestershire was rapidly undercut by the ECB docking them five points for a slow over rate in a match that finished inside three days. This is a perfect example of the ECB shutting the stable door after the horse has bolted. Where was this idea 30 years ago when we had far greater influence over world cricket? We could have brought in a similar system for Test matches and ensured that the West Indies side of the 1980s ranked no higher than fourth, just three places above England.

It is missed opportunities like that which make me despair about English cricket administration. I shall watch the next round of Championship games unimpressed by their speed of thought.

Kenny Shovel has never sat in a press box or charged a match programme to expenses